Covid still a factor in low bus uptake

While there’s still some concern about Covid, the survey has found that bus passenger numbers among the elderly and disabled have been more deeply affected by uncertainty and bus cuts

More than a third of older and disabled concessionary bus pass holders say they are using buses less than before the pandemic, new research reveals.

Transport Focus spoke to 2,500 members of its transport user panel to understand how bus use has changed and what measures could be taken to encourage older and disabled pass holders back on board.

In the survey Transport Focus spoke to people that used the bus less during the pandemic and has not increased over the last year to understand why they hadn’t returned. 27% say are still getting out less, particularly for days out or shopping trips, which have been hit by the cost of living crisis and high street closures.

Of those who have not returned, around three in 10 (31%) say they are travelling less because services have been cut or have become less reliable, in some cases being cancelled at the last minute.

Three in ten older and disabled people said coronavirus was a concern, down from more than half over a year ago. Only 7% are now worried about catching Covid on a bus although, for these people, it still represents a barrier to their return.

Older and disabled people continue to say they are frustrated at not being able to use their free passes on buses in the morning rush-hour. Transport Focus recommended that the bus industry consider reducing fares to help.

Encouragingly one in four in the survey have used the Government’s £2 bus fare scheme in England this year to travel before 9.30am. The new Government ‘Take the Bus’ campaign to encourage them to use the free bus travel is also a welcome step.

David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:  “In our survey, we heard from older and disabled people who felt trapped and isolated by the removal of some bus services and from others who felt anxious and frustrated by their unreliability.

“However, our research also indicated that where improvements to bus services have been made, passengers have noticed and started using buses more. Ongoing support and investment in buses by Government is welcome. The bus industry must continue to focus on improving reliability and frequency at key times, which remain the key driver of many discretionary bus trips for older and disabled passengers.”

Survey findings

  • Among those whose used buses less frequently during the pandemic 69 per cent say that this is because they made fewer journeys for days out or for leisure trips. 49 per cent say that they felt less safe using bus than using other forms of transport, while 44 per cent made fewer shopping trips.
  • For people who have not returned to using the bus more than 12 months ago, the top factor that would increase their bus use was better service frequency (55 per cent), followed by the bus going to more destinations (48 per cent).
  • Encouragingly 7 per cent of people whose use of bus has increased over the last year, say that this is due to their using the £2 flat rate fare scheme in England to make journeys before 9.30am.

What passengers say

One passenger told us about the impact of reduced services on their mental health: “I have been deeply affected by the reduction in my local bus service. It is also very unreliable, and the bus company stops the service whenever they feel like it. This affects my mental and physical health when I let people down or when I cannot get to see my friends.”

We have gone from a 30 min service to an hourly one that stops at 6pm – meaning I can no longer go into town on a Friday night to the pub

Passengers talked about feeling more isolated and staying at home due to less reliable services: “It makes me feel even more trapped in my own house. We have gone from a 30 min service to an hourly one that stops at 6pm – meaning I can no longer go into town on a Friday night to the pub.”

Another said: “Whereas previously there were direct routes, now it involves changing services with the total journey time doubled because of the indirect route. Also, there’s the uncertainty about whether the next bus is running and the prospect of being marooned somewhere and having to wait an hour.”


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